Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oh Crap....Again.

When I started this blog I had many ideas running around in my head about what topics I would write about. Over the course of time, many topics addressed were out of obvious necessity while others were more organic and often based on an experience or a new product on the market.

One topic that has received several entries is one that I honestly can say I never anticipated writing about once, let alone multiple times. Yet the topic keeps rearing its ugly head and no doubt someone is going to imply that I may need to seek counseling. That person would probably be right.

Unexpectedly, Rob "Qiwiz" Kelly (, a fellow member, sourced some titanium and was able to shape it into a trowel. Titanium holds a great place in the world of lightweight backpacking and quite honestly is a technology that really needs to be more integrated into this industry.  He offered the trowels to anyone with a couple dollars to spare and I was happy to have one.

The trowel was pretty unfinished, so I used my Dremel tool to smooth everything out, take away the straight edges and angles, and ultimately smooth the edges so it would be a trowel and not a weapon. I also purchased a rubbery dipping compound from my local hardware store which is used to put a grip on handtools as I was concerned about getting a nasty cut in the wilderness from the edges. After a few dips, I had a very nice and non-slippery handle that was plenty easy on the hands. Using a high speed drill, I punched a hole in it and added a reflective piece of Kelty Trip Tease. The trowel itself was the same size and shape of the famous Monbell Handy Scoop.

If you were wondering, the Monbell Handy Scoop weighs 39 grams and mine is 6.6 grams as a blank and 14 grams with the handle and cord. Consequently, a MSR Ground Hog stake weighs 15 grams, so needless to say I'm pretty intrigued with this little shovel. I've used it several times now and quite honestly it is really a great lightweight digging tool. It is plenty sufficient to get the job done and having something a little more substantial to dig cat holes with is a nice luxury.


John Roan said...

Of course I have to ask...what dual purpose can this have? I mean, ul backpacking = multiple purpose items, right? Adding 0.5oz to your gear is just that, adding weight.

If you don't want to use a stick or the heel of your shoe to dig the cat hole, maybe you can also use this shovel as a tent stake?

Just a thought from another ul nut :)

Jolly Green Giant said...

If you read my other comments about potty trowels, I typically say that backpackers must be good stewards of the environment. This means carrying a poop shovel even when it seems like dead weight or when it has has no dual function. I have yet to meet anyone who can genuinely dig a decent 6-8" cat hole with a stick or heel of their foot, especially when they are puckered and desireous of using the bathroom. Sure it can be done, but it isn't a realistic option for people needing to use the bathroom in a reasonable time and for those that want to make every effort to ensure they are completely responsible while in the wildnerss both for their own personal experience and for that of future generations.

Matt Lacuesta said...

Here's one that I have followed and thought about making, but then remembered that I don't have any patience.

John Roan said...

I have to respectfully disagree with your notion that if someone doesn't carry a potty trowel they are not good stewards of the environment. If conditions prevent my heel or a stick from doing the job, then I use one of my two large tent stakes to do the digging. For urgent situations, you can simply dig a hole next to your pile after you have done the deed, then push it into the hole with a stick.

In order to help accelerated the decomposition process, it is also best to stir in some dirt with a stick before burying your waste. Then push the stick part way into the covered hole, making it obvious so someone else doesn't dig in the same place.

A potty trowel is in my opinion a convenience item. I do like your ingenuity, which spurred the thought that if it could also be used as a tent stake, one could improve the convenience of this dirty task without adding any weight to their pack.

Just my two cents. Everyone has their own style.

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ John -

Being a good steward of the environment can come in many forms. For this topic, if you can dig a legitimate cat hole with your heel or a stick, then by all means, leave a trowel behind. It has been my experience that many make this claim, but as I said, I have yet to see anyone who can do it within a reasonable time. Sure you could spend 10 minutes digging a hole with a stick, but who would want to especially when caught in the moment? When the movement strikes most people, it has been my experience that few or none are willing to spend the time to dig a proper hole unless they can do it quickly. I recall a past trip where I was with some buddies at a shelter and comparing gear. I had someone claim that my UL trowel was unnecessary and made the same claim that they could dig a hole with a stick or heel just as easily. After all, I too rarely see one on the gear list of most people who claim to be UL’ers. Someone in the group challenged a hole digging competition between he and I. What took one easy minute for me took him about 8 and he was left red-faced, sweaty, and dirty. Whether he did it before his deed or after, it still took him an awful lot of time and effort to dig the hole and my guess is that he is like many who claim they can do it who can't quite deliver when in public view. So at the end of the day, really it comes down to your own skills. If you can dig a legitimate hole without a shovel, and keep in mind I’ve used a tent stake in the past for this effort so I understand that even a stake can take time, then more power to you. In the end, be a steward of the environment and be responsible however that shakes out for you. The concern that it is a convenience item is a bit of a quandary to me as most of what any backpacker carries is a convenience item as in the grand scheme as plenty before us had done just fine without a shelter, sleeping bag, pad, fancy stoves, whatever. Course, that’s not to say a 14 gram trowel is on par with a 4 pound camping chair, so it’s a subjective moving scale across the board.

Jason Klass said...

Trying to dig a cathole with a stick sucks. A trowel is MUCH faster and efficient (which you'll definitely appreciate when you really need it).

As Matt pointed out above, I made my own titanium trowel a couple of years ago and have been carrying it ever since. It was a pain to make (titanium is very difficult to work with) but it's definitely worth the weight in my opinion.

Nice job Jolly Green Giant!

Robert said...

If you want your own and don't want to make it yourself, checkout: